LIST: These are the Texans detained, missing abroad

In this image taken from undated video posted to YouTube, American freelance journalist Austin Tice, who had been reporting for American news organizations in Syria until his disappearance in August 2012, prays in Arabic and English while blindfolded in the presence of gunmen. President Joe Biden says Washington is certain that the Syrian government is holding American journalist Austin Tice who went missing in the war-torn country a decade ago urging Damascus to help bring him back home. Biden’s comments were released in a statement Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, by the White House to mark the 10th anniversary since Tice was abducted. (AP Photo, File) (Associated Press)

Here’s a look at some recent cases of foreign governments detaining Texans.

Currently missing or detained Texans:

  • Jerrel Kenemore: Texas computer programmer Jerrel Kenemore was detained in Venezuela in March 2022, accused of entering the country illegally, the Associated Press reported. Kenemore is from the Dallas area, but had lived in Colombia since 2019. According to Kenemore’s family, he had been living in Colombia for over a year with a Venezuelan woman. The two shared a small apartment where Kenemore was working remotely for a client in the U.S., but had decided to relocate to Venezuela, where his girlfriend had a home. The pair and three others were detained by migration officials upon entering Venezuela. Officials said Kenmore was carrying three laptops and was accompanied by a captain in the Venezuelan navy, something that raised suspicions, the Associated Press reported. Kenemore was charged with criminal association and conspiracy.
  • Luke Denman: Texas native Luke Denman has been detained in Venezuela since May 2020. He was one of two ex-Green Berets arrested in a foiled plot to oust Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, NBC News reported. According to Venezuelan officials, eight “mercenary terrorists” were killed and several captured, including Denman and fellow Army veteran Airan Berry, during the raid. In a taped video statement broadcast by Venezuela state television, Denman acknowledged traveling to a small town in Colombia near the Venezuelan border to train and supervise rebel soldiers that would seize and hold the Caracas airport, abduct Maduro and fly him to the US. In the video, Denman said, “I was helping Venezuelans take back control of their country.” Denman and Berry were later found guilty of conspiracy, trafficking in illegal arms and terrorism, and sentenced to 20 years in prison, the Associated Press reported. Shortly after his brother’s capture, Mark Denman founded American Rescue Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to the return of U.S. citizens held abroad and seeking their humane treatment.
  • Mark Swidan: Mark Swidan of Houston was 37 when he was detained, in 2012, in China while on a business trip. Chinese officers reportedly burst into his hotel room while he was talking to his family on the phone and, without a warrant or other decision by a public authority, took him to Jiangmen municipal detention center, Guangdong Province, where he remains, according to the United Nations. Swidan was accused of belonging to a group involved in the manufacture and trafficking of drugs. Though drugs were found on Swidan’s interpreter and driver, no drugs were ever found on Swidan or in his hotel room and no forensic evidence – no drugs in his system, no DNA on the packages, no fingerprints on the packages or drug paraphernalia – has ever been produced connecting him to the drugs or any trafficking, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, a non-profit advocacy group that works to improve treatment for detainees in China. The Department of State and the White House have raised Swidan’s case with the Chinese government on numerous occasions.
  • Austin Tice: American journalist Austin Tice was abducted in Syria nearly 10 years ago. Tice, who is from Houston and whose work had been published by The Washington Post, McClatchy newspapers and other outlets, disappeared in August 2012 at a checkpoint in a contested area west of Damascus, the Associated Press reported. A video released weeks after his abduction showed a blindfolded Tice saying “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since. In 2020, two U.S. officials traveled to Damascus to seek information on Tice and other U.S. hostages believed to be held in Syria. The secret high-stakes meeting was the highest-level talk in years between the U.S. and the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Associated Press reported. During the talk, the Syrian officials offered no substantive information on Tice.
This undated photo obtained from the family of Austin Tice, shows American freelance journalist Austin Tice (AP Photo/Family of Austin Tice)

Formerly detained Texans:

  • Danny Burch: In February 2019, East Texas oil engineer Danny Burch was freed after 18 months of captivity in Yemen. Burch, who is married to a Yemeni national, had lived in Yemen for years working for an oil company when he was kidnapped in September 2017, the Associated Press reported. At the time, his wife Nadia told The New York Times that her husband had left their home in in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa to take their sons to a sports club but never returned. Police later told her that witnesses reported that he had been stopped on a busy street by five armed men in civilian clothes. The men parked Burch’s car on a side street and took him away.
  • The “Citgo 6″: The men known as the Citgo 6 — for the Houston oil company where they worked — were lured to Caracas in 2017 to attend a meeting at the headquarters of Citgo’s parent, Venezuela’s state-run oil giant PDVSA. Once there, masked officers bearing assault rifles stormed the conference room where they were gathered and arrested the men. Later, they were sentenced on corruption and embezzlement charges in connection to a never-executed plan to refinance billions in bonds, the Associated Press reported. The men have always maintained their innocence. The State Department considered their imprisonment “wrongful” and sought their unconditional return. In May 2022, one of the Citgo executives, Gustavo Cárdenas, was released. His colleagues, Jose Angel Pereira, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, were released months later in a prisoner swap.
This undated photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020 by Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, shows CITGO oil executives Jose Angel Pereira, from left to right, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Jose Luis Zambrano, Tomeu Vadell and Alirio Jose Zambrano, standing outside the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, in Caracas, Venezuela. The men have been jailed for over two years since officials under Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro asked them to travel from the Houston-based CITGO headquarters for a meeting, when they were arrested. ((Posted on Twitter by Jorge Arreaza/Venezuela's Foreign Ministry via AP))
  • Serkan Golge: In 2019, Turkish-American scientist Serkan Golge was released from a prison in Turkey after spending nearly three years behind bars on terrorism charges. A senior researcher at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Golge was on a family visit in southern Turkey when he was arrested in the aftermath of a failed coup seeking to overthrow Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, the Associated Press reported. Golge was one of thousands of people, including at least nine American citizens, detained by the Turkish government on suspicion of participating in the failed coup attempt, according to the U.S. Helsinki Commission.
  • Trevor Reed: Russia released Trevor Reed, a former Marine from Texas, in a prisoner exchange with the U.S. in April 2022. In 2019, Reed traveled to Russia with his Russian girlfriend to learn the language. He was arrested after Russian authorities said he assaulted an officer while being driven to a police station following a night of heavy drinking, the Associated Press reported. Reed was later sentenced to nine years in prison. The U.S. government described Reed as unjustly detained and Reed and his family have maintained his innocence.
U.S. ex-Marine Trevor Reed, who was detained in 2019 and accused of assaulting police officers, at a court hearing in Moscow, Russia on March 11, 2020.
  • Brittney Griner: U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, a Houston native, was released from Russian custody in a prisoner exchange in December 2022 -- 10 months after she was first detained. Griner was arrested in a Moscow airport on Feb. 17, 2022, after Russian authorities said a search of the Houston native’s luggage revealed vape cartridges and cannabis oil. She was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison for smuggling illegal drugs into the country. Her release was negotiated in exchange for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Biden speaks after WNBA star Brittney Griner freed in US-Russia prisoner swap

About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team in 2019. When she’s not hard at work in the KPRC 2 newsroom, you can find Bri drinking away her hard earned wages at JuiceLand, running around Hermann Park, listening to crime podcasts or ransacking the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble.